Nederlander Theater


Built: 1926
Architects: Rapp & Rapp
Restored: 1996-1998 Daniel P. Coffey, architect

Built on the site of the Iroquois Theater where in 1903 a fire killed about 600 people, the deadliest theater fire in U.S. History. After the fire’s recorded death toll reached over double the death toll of The Great Chicago Fire, city officials closed all theaters in the city for inspection. Following the incident, the city enacted new laws that addressed aisle-way and exit standards, scenery fireproofing, and occupancy limits. The Oriental Theater (now James R. Nederlander Theater) opened in 1926, when it functioned as a vaudeville house. Over the next few decades it hosted a veritable who’s who of 20th century performers including: Fanny Brice, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Alice Faye, Stepin Fetchit, Ella Fitzgerald, Ana Gasteyer, The Gumm Sisters (one of whom became Judy Garland), Jean Harlow, Billie Holiday, Bob Hope, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, The Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, The Three Stooges, Sophie Tucker, Sarah Vaughan, Henny Youngman and George Jessel. By the late 70’s the theater had fallen into disrepair, staying in business by showing exploitation films. After an extensive restoration project, the theater reopened in 1998 as the Ford Center for Performing Arts Oriental Theater.

Chronicles of Old Chicago, Adam Selzer; Chicago Architecture Foundation; Chicago Tribune.

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